Archive for the ‘Middle East Unrest’ Category

In a single frame, cartoonist Milt Priggee manages to describe the situation over Syria:

Reminds me of this scene from a John Woo movie. I nominate John Travolta for the role of Assad.

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This is not an Onion headline:

Al-Qaeda tries to soften image with ice cream
By Loveday Morris, Published: July 25

BEIRUT — The jovial tug o’ war and children’s ice-cream-eating contest wouldn’t look out of place at any town fair. But the family festivities in the battle-scarred Syrian city of Aleppo had a surprising organizer: al-Qaeda.

The media arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda affiliate, has been churning out videos featuring community gatherings in Syria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the group battles to win hearts and minds. It is a far cry from the organization’s usual fare of video offerings, which includes public executions.

The attempt to soften Islamic State’s image comes as it struggles to win support in the areas of Syria that are outside government control. Many residents view the group as a foreign force more concerned with imposing Islamic law than with fighting against President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

“They are well aware that people out there on principle don’t like lots of foreign fighters coming in to fight jihad in their country. They are aware they need to reassure people their presence isn’t negative,” said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “Ramadan parties and ice-cream-eating competitions are one localized example of that. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen, will depend on other armed groups and how they portray them.”

Islamic State has rapidly risen to prominence in Syria since emerging in April. Analysts say the group, which includes established jihadist factions that now fight under a common banner, comprises 2,500 to 3,000 men nationwide. It is most influential in Aleppo and its countryside to the north, in Idlib and in Latakia.

The group, however, is facing increasing isolation as others try to distance themselves from Islamic State’s hard-line tactics.

By now, most of you have seen this exchange between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama about the attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans were killed on September 11:

Here’s the transcript of that exchange:

CROWLEY: Because we’re — we’re closing in, I want to still get a lot of people in. I want to ask you something, Mr. President, and then have the governor just quickly.

Your secretary of state, as I’m sure you know, has said that she takes full responsibility for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Does the buck stop with your secretary of state as far as what went on here?

OBAMA: Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president and I’m always responsible, and that’s why nobody’s more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I do.

The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.

And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as Commander in Chief.

CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to…

ROMNEY: Yes, I — I…

CROWLEY: … quickly to this please.

ROMNEY: I — I think interesting the president just said something which — which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

OBAMA: That’s what I said.

ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.

It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed governor.

ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: It — it — it — he did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terror…

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

CROWLEY: He — he did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.

The key – and largely unnoticed – part of this exchange was not Candy Crowley’s factcheck of Romney. Rather, it was President Obama’s gentle nudge to “Please proceed, governor.” Having watched that Libya exchange replayed several times on the news over the past two days, I couldn’t help but notice Obama’s poker face as he said this. It reminds me of Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous phrase, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Obama got the first response to the question, and Romney was clearly chomping at the bit to respond because he and the Republican party view the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack as a political liability to be exploited. Looking back on it, it seems as if Obama saw where Romney was heading with his attack and rather than cut him off, encouraged him to continue with his train of thought and he played right into Obama’s hands.

Jon Stewart weighed in on it during last night’s Daily Show (scroll to 1:38 in the clip).

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad did his best Officer Barbrady impression during his interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters:

In his interview with Walters, his first sit down with an American journalist since the protests began, Assad denied he ordered a crackdown and blamed the violence on criminals, religious extremists and terrorists sympathetic to al Qaeda he claims are mixed in with peaceful demonstrators.

He said the victims of the street violence were not civilians protesters battling decades of one-party rule, he insisted.

“Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa,” he said. The dead have included 1,100 soldiers and police, he said.

Assad conceded only that some members of his armed forces went too far, but claims they were punished for their actions.

“Every ‘brute reaction’ was by an individual, not by an institution, that’s what you have to know,” he said. “There is a difference between having a policy to crackdown and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference,” said Assad.

“But you have to give the order,” countered Walters.

“We don’t kill our people… no government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person,” Assad said.

At another point he said, “There was no command to kill or be brutal.”

The whole thing is well worth reading and watching, if only to ask yourself if he really does believe what he’s saying. If he doesn’t, he’s a bold-faced liar who won’t take responsibility for his own actions. If he does, he is drinking way too much of his own Kool Aid. I’m not sure which of the two possibilities would be more disturbing.

Andrew Sullivan did a pretty good job juxtaposing images of the unrest in Syria [Warning: Graphic photos/videos] with al-Assad’s comments to Walters.

Kudos to Walters and ABC for getting the big interview and pressing al-Assad on his regime’s crackdown against the opposition.

Two key al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen bit the dust today

U.S.-Born Qaeda Leader Killed in Yemen

SANA, Yemen — Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who was a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate and was considered its most dangerous English-speaking propagandist and plotter, was killed in an American drone strike on his vehicle on Friday, officials in Washington and Yemen said. They said the strike also killed a radical American colleague who was an editor of Al Qaeda’s online jihadist magazine.

Many details of the strike were unclear, but one American official said that Mr. Awlaki, whom the United States had been hunting in Yemen for more than two years, had been identified as the target in advance and was killed with a Hellfire missile fired from a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. The official said it was the first C.I.A. strike in Yemen since 2002. Yemen’s Defense Ministry confirmed Mr. Awlaki’s death.

The strike appeared to be the first time in the American-led war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately killed by American forces, a step that has raised contentious constitutional issues in the United States. It was also the second high-profile killing of an Al Qaeda leader in the past five months under the Obama administration, which ordered the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Mr. Awlaki was an important member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded by some antiterrorism experts as the most dangerous branch of the Al Qaeda network. He was considered the inspirational or operational force behind a number of major plots aimed at killing Americans in the United States in recent years, most notably the deadly assault at an American army base in Fort Hood, Tex., and attempts to bomb Times Square and a Detroit-bound jetliner.

Yemen’s official news agency, Saba, reported that the attack also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin who was an editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language Internet magazine. An American official said the United States government believed Mr. Khan had been killed as well. It was not clear whether Mr. Khan, who proclaimed in the magazine last year that he was “proud to be a traitor to America,” was also a deliberate target of the strike.

A Yemeni Defense Ministry statement said that a number of Mr. Awlaki’s bodyguards were also killed.

Neither the Americans nor the Yemenis explained precisely how they knew that Mr. Awlaki had been confirmed dead.

This operation raises interesting constitutional questions about whether or not the federal government has the right to order the assassination of American citizens. Given Yemen’s teetering status as a quasi-failed state and the lack of effective government institutions in the country, expecting local authorities to arrest Awlaki or Khan or extradite them to the United States for trial was simply not a viable option.

ABC’s Jake Tapper recaps the high-level terrorist leaders who have been captured or killed during Obama’s presidency… He’s racked up quite the body count.

For laughs, the Drunk Predator Drone has weighed in on the assassination via Twitter.

Full disclosure: I once e-mailed Anwar al-Awlaki through his now-defunct website/blog for comment on a story about Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal al Hassan I was working on for CNN back in 2009. I never got a response.

Steve Coll makes the case against doing so.

Although not mentioned in this article, Coll has another relevant historical precedent to draw from. In his seminal work “Ghost Wars,” he wrote extensively about how the U.S. provided the mujahedin in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles and other weapons to level the playing field in their fight against the Soviets. According to Coll, the CIA gave between 2,000 and 2,500 missiles to the Afghan rebels during the course of the war.

After the Soviet withdrawal, “the CIA fretted that loose Stingers would be bought by terrorist groups or hostile governments such as Iran’s for use against American civilian passenger planes or military aircraft.” The Bush and Clinton administrations later authorized a highly secret missile buyback program, with each going between $80,000 and $150,000 a piece. The agency estimated that 600 of them were still at large in 1996 (Coll, Ghost Wars p. 11).   The CIA and the Obama administration would not want to see a replay of this scenario in Libya.

Ali Suleiman Aujali, the former Libyan ambassador to Washington and currently the U.S. representative of the Transitional National Council of the Libyan Republic, has written an op-ed for the Washington Post. Read it.